Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tiny Houses...

For a while, I've been following the trend towards "tiny houses". Architects are coming up with cool, very functional dwellings with really small footprints. They are beautiful objects of desire. Of course, it doesn't hurt that these places are always photographed basically empty and with no people inside them (so it is hard to judge the scale - to see how really tiny they are!).

Architectural mags are full of these things, and they come in wheeled versions as well.

Recently it struck me that all these houses are always photographed in rural settings. As in, a tiny house alone on an open prairie, by a lake, in a forest...and suddenly I realized that these houses are therefore not a housing solution at all, really. They don't help people who really need small homes, get housing. I mean, isn't the target market for such tiny homes supposed to be those of us who don't need a lot of space, but don't have a lot of money, either? These folks are surely not going to have the money to buy an acreage or a suburban lot, and plunk down an architecturally-designed microhome on it.

The problem is the cost of land. So if you need to live like this (a "tiny house" on wheels in someone's back yard - I suspect it's the parents'), I really wonder if it wouldn't be more comfortable and a far better investment to use the money to fix up your parent's basement instead, and live there?? That way, their house might actually go up in value, too. You could still live debt-free and without a car! Just sayin'!

Or this (a new "tiny home" constructed on an urban plot). To what problem, exactly, is this a solution?? Read about how the owner doesn't qualify for a traditional mortgage (because the bank has figured out that nobody will want to buy this house if the loan goes into default). I mean, if you have a tiny lot and you need infill, then OK (we've got some of those on a street near us and they are quite functional - but they're bigger than this one). But on a standard lot? Really, build something normal with a basement suite. Srsly.

What's really needed in terms of microhousing are things like laneway homes and legal suites, where you increase the density on existing plots of land. Or small - affordable - apartments in cities, which again, increase density. And these are all controversial exactly because they increase density.  So, this explains why tiny houses are marketed they way they are: alone in an expansive landscape, where they are clearly innocent of any controversial density-increasing tendencies.

Don't get me wrong. There is lots to be said for simplifying one's life, for downsizing and doing with less, and if reading magazines that emphasize white space, or staring at nice photos of small homes, helps you achieve that, so much the better. But be aware of what these outfits are selling. Those magazines are there to make you buy shit. Most of the people who build those tiny homes do not actually live in them - they are used as "retreats", rented out to vacationers, or lived in by young couples who abandon them after a year.

So, while I love the pretty houses, and it's great that small houses are now objects of desire with a certain demographic, the real problem is getting them installed, in large numbers, in cities. And that's not something those magazines help with...

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